Lacks inducted into state Women’s Hall of Fame
Wednesday, 16 April 2014 13:44

Turner’s icon honored at March 20 ceremony

by Nicole Rodman

    Though her cells would go on to change the world, Henrietta Lacks remained largely unknown for decades after her death in 1951.
    Now, as word of her legacy spreads around the globe, Henrietta Lacks has been honored with a spot in the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.
    Born in Roanoke, Va., Lacks relocated to Turner Station with her husband and children in 1941.
    Ten years later, Lacks was admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital after falling ill shortly after the birth of her fifth child.
    At Hopkins, Lacks was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of cervical cancer. Despite receiving treatment, Lacks succumbed to the disease on Oct. 4, 1951 at the age of 31.
    Unbeknownst to either Lacks or her family, doctors had harvested cells from Lacks’ tumor during her treatments.
    These cells, named HeLa cells after their unwitting donor, proved to be unusually prolific.
    In the decades since, Lacks’ cells have led to countless medical advancements, including treatments for polio, cancer and AIDS.
    HeLa cells continue to be instrumental in medical research today.
    It was not until the 1970s that Lacks’ family first learned about HeLa cells and the indelible mark they have left on the world.
    In recent years, Lacks’ story has begun to be told through documentaries, books and events held in Turner Station and beyond.
    Lacks received her latest posthumous honor last month, as she was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Annapolis on March 20.

The Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame is maintained by the Maryland Commission for Women.
    Established in 1971, the Maryland Commission for Women serves as an advocacy group for the interests of women across the state.
    Each year, the commission seeks nominations for the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.
    According to Maryland Commission for Women program manager Crystal Young, nominees must be Maryland residents whose historical or contemporary contributions extend beyond their immediate community.
    As Young explained, Lacks was chosen for inclusion in the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame “because of her contributions that she made to the community and to the world.”
    Lacks was nominated to the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame by two groups — the Montgomery County Commission for Women and the Montgomery County Maryland Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc.
    The Mongtomery County Commission for Women decided to nominate Lacks after hearing her story from commission member Linda Amendt.
    “First of all, we couldn’t believe she wasn’t already in the Hall of Fame,” commission president Chandra Walker Holloway said.
    After confirming that Lacks was not in the Hall of Fame, the commission set out the rectify that.
    “She has impacted the lives of all Marylanders as well as everyone in the country,” Holloway said of Lacks. “We all owe her a debt of gratitude.”
    Holloway also contacted the Montgomery County Maryland Chapter of Jack and Jill of America and invited that group to submit a nomination on Lacks’ behalf.
    Jack and Jill of America is an organization of African-American mothers founded, according to the group’s website, “to provide social, cultural and educational opportunities for youth.”
    “She should be honored for the many lives and scientific discoveries as a result of her cells,” Montgomery County chapter president Kimberly McLurkin-Harris explained of her group’s decision to nominate Lacks.
    As a result of the nominations submitted by both groups, Lacks was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame late last month.
    Members of Lacks’ family were on hand to see their matriarch acknowledged for her long-ignored contributions to medical science.
    Lacks and her fellow Hall of Fame inductees will take their place at the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, which is currently housed at the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center in Baltimore.
    In the meantime, the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group is working to ensure that Lacks is remembered on a national level.
    The group, along with the Polaris Meeting Group, has nominated Lacks for inclusion in the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y.
    In addition, the group has also submitted a proposal to the U.S. Postal Service requesting that a commemorative stamp be commissioned in Lacks’ honor.
    “We thought it was appropriate because of what she means not only to Turner Station but to the world,” Dr. Adele Newson-Horst, vice president of the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group, explained.
    She added, “Her contributions, though unwitting and initially unknown to her family, have been tremendous and befitting of recognition.”